Lessons Learned from 6 Years Without a Car
If you’ve ever considered going car-free, I’m here to tell you to take the plunge.
Over the last 6 years I’ve lived in 3 different cities, sans car (much to my suburban mother’s amazement). I got rid of my car in my early 20s, the moment I found a job that was walking-distance from my first studio apartment in Seattle.
Being car-free isn’t always easy. Little trips can be a hassle, and getting out of town for the weekend is more complex. But I’ve found it makes day-to-day life more carefree. If you’re walking, biking, or bussing around your city, you get to discover things you never would in your car, save a ton of cash, and live a little greener.
Here’s what I’ve learned from years without a vehicle:
Designing your life, car free
When you don’t have a car, you’ll consider drastically different factors when you look for a place to live.
Here are the top priorities I looked for in a new place, in order of importance:
- Grocery store proximity – I can get a new job that’s closer, but I can’t build a new grocery store. Sure, you can get food delivered, but I prefered to save money and get a little exercise doing my own shopping. I tried to keep my grocery runs to a 10 minute walk or less.
- Neighborhood walkability – You can get a general idea of how walkable things are on Walkscore. If you browse a few neighborhoods, you’ll quickly see the difference between suburban sprawl and easily areas where you can cover most of your errands on foot or bike.
- Commute options – Are you close to a bus line or, better yet, a transit hub? Limited transit options may not be a dealbreaker, but you should at least be sure your regular routes are covered.
These criteria often led me to centrally located spots—downtown hubs, or neighborhoods that are fairly self-contained. That meant higher rent, but the money and time I saved not driving made it worthwhile.
Enjoy that extra $$
When you get rid of your car, suddenly you’ll notice hundreds more dollars in your pocket every month (surprise!). I owned my vehicle outright, but was still paying ~$300 per month in parking, gas, and insurance. Gross.
I chose to put that cash in savings. Even as an entry-level receptionist, I suddenly had extra money to add to my retirement and my emergency fund.
Getting rid of the car built my cash cushion in two ways — lower monthly expenses, and less risk. An accident or a mechanical failure could set you back at any time, making it tough to plan. A flat monthly bus pass is a much more predictable expense than car ownership.
Creative transportation options
One of the lovely parts of not having a car? You get really creative about transportation. Here are the best resources I’ve used in my time without a car:
- Cycling/Bikeshare – Biking isn’t for everyone, but if you’re brave, it’s a beautiful way to get around the city and stay crazy fit. Many cities are jumping in on the bikeshare trend – so you don’t even need to know how to change a tire. Wear a helmet!
- Fancy bikes – Too tired to ride? Electric bikes. Need to take it on the metro? Foldable bikes. Need to haul stuff? Cargo bikes.
- Carpooling – As a formerly car-free person, I’m now living my values as a carpool mom. See if your company can connect you to a pool through Zimride, or hop in a carpool through the Waze app.
- Car2Go – Car2Go is a pretty cool alternative car sharing service. Free parking, you don’t need to find designated spots. Just leave it wherever! Perfect for one-way trips.
- Scooters – Don’t hate, those little scooters littering the sidewalks are a really fun solution for the last mile of your trip. You can buy your own if sharing hasn’t hit your town.
- Trains – We may not have amazing bullet train service, but Amtrak is still a wonderful way to see the scenery. It’s more comfortable than the bus (dining car!) and not much more expensive.
- Car rental – If you’re keeping a car for rare weekends away, you’d save a ton of money just renting instead. Bonus: no maintenance, and you always drive a late model.
- Peer-to-Peer car rental – This is kind of a wild thing, now you can rent cars from people on the internet with Turo. It’s cheap, but I’ve had mixed luck with the vehicles there. Rent at your own risk.
If you need to test the car-free waters, give some of these alternate transportation methods a try. That way you can find out what works before you take the plunge. Even if you keep your wheels and reduce the amount of time you spend driving alone, that’s a win for the planet, and for a more connected city. Happy non-driving!